- Abstracting Otherwise: In Search for a Common Strategy of Arts and Computing
“Abstraction” in digital culture and in the arts is a contested term. As a technical concept in computing, it refers to the process of managing complexity through modeling and selective hiding or condensing of information and plays a key role in the development of software and computing architectures. In the arts, particularly in the West, abstraction is intertwined with histories of image-making, from the medium of photography to the movement of Impressionism and beyond, and it is often posited within a (false) binary of abstraction vs. representation. In the Western arts canon, abstraction after the invention of photography also tends to exclude certain artists that are marked as not artists, such as self-taught artists, women artists, craft artists, disabled artists, POC artists, and other others.1 In the digital culture, abstraction invokes the move away from matter and corporeality. Characteristic of the Western rationality, while also knitted into the understanding of the digital itself, it thus can be said to similarly reproduce the exclusion of those who are seen as too corporeal, too particular.2
Our own thinking on abstraction is the result of a slow burn of working through translations and attempting to find a common language between our different disciplines. Translations between us necessarily take place in and between our modes of praxis, namely, critical-theory-informed analysis of computing and collaborative interdisciplinary art-making. In our work together, we began [End Page 19] experimenting with thinking from our fields about the potential of abstraction as a strategy for composing a plane of relations and intensities—of doing abstraction differently. In this experimental, thoughts-in-progress text, we reflect on different discourses that we inhabit and attempt to propose some intersections where a common vocabulary could be formed.
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Relying on trans*feminist, critical computing, new materialist perspectives as well as relational ontologies, we approach abstraction between arts and computing and investigate its potential through a theoretical lens stemming from the aforementioned bodies of thought as well as our own practices. By situating abstraction in the histories of Western science and philosophy, as well as the history of Western painting, we are exploring how this term can be reconfigured and rethought in a way that would leave space for the imaginary and for the configuration of unexpected elements, while maintaining responsibility in its construction and refraining from erasure, straightforward extraction, or disappearing peoples. [End Page 20]
Our work engages intersemiotic translation as a metaphor for how to think between disciplines, understood as the act of translating one language to another while keeping in mind the political and culturally embedded process that can impact both the originating and receiving cultures.3 Intersemiotic translation often carries a source text or artifact across the sign systems and creates a likeness between different cultures. This approach recognizes that there are multiple possible versions of source and target texts and can help inform why there may be preconceptions or biases embedded in any translational work. This is a kind of translation that attempts to remain accountable to its source and destination by giving a network of reference points spoken, physical, and cited to form the way that thinking is constructed.
Our starting point for experimenting with assembling a common ground begins with the question: What are the connections between concepts that operate in different disciplines—such as “abstraction” in computing and in the arts? How does abstraction (computational/artistic) relate to matter and matter-reality? What kind of implications does this have for arts, and what kind of political potential can it open up? In investigating these questions, we suggest to rethink abstraction as a process of production and manipulation of trans*re*lationalities. Taking theoretical thought as a meeting venue for our collaborative questioning, we introduce trans*re*lationality as a new concept that entails coagulation of the terms transing, translating, and relating, and discuss its theoretical inheritances. Finally, we propose that rethinking...